1996 Readers Poll
1996 Critics Picks
Best Allergy-free Shopping

New to town? Ha! Welcome to Allergy Central! It was only a matter of time until a smart home store with an environmental and allergy-free consciousness arrived. Wildflower has natural cotton clothing, futons with natural wood frames, recycled soda-pop foam mattresses and natural cotton covers, and other home accoutrements, all made from recycled materials.

Wildflower Organics
908 N. Lamar, 512/320-0449
3801 Capital of TX Hwy. Ste. D-180, 512/732-2145

Best Bargain Wine Bin

One necessary ingredient, no matter what's for dinner, is a bottle of wine. And when consumption of the stuff reaches a-bottle-a-day proportions, a break on the bank account is welcome. We won't stoop to Boone's Farm, but we will spend time hunched over the bargain bins at Fiesta, where the two for $7 or two for $9 price tag rules. Admittedly, we've poured a few down the drain, but more often than not we toast ourselves on a bargain bottle well chosen.

3909 N. I-35, 512/406-3900
5510 S. I-35, 512/373-7800

photograph by Minh Carrico   Minh Carrico

photograph by Minh Carrico   Minh Carrico

Best Boutique For Star Gazing

Great service and unique clothing aside, By George also has star power. Meg Ryan stopped in for a bundle of outfits when she was in town filming Courage Under Fire. Andie McDowell is a regular customer when she's in the area and when she's not, she has the sales staff ship her clothing they think she might like. Nora Ephron has shopped here and Lyle Lovett stuck his head in one day, heard one of his CDs on the sound system, and sent the store a complete collection of his music.

By George
524 N. Lamar, 512/472-5951
1400 S. Congress, 512/441-8600

Best Channel Surfing Stop & Shop

Every June, KLRU invents the best reason to put down the clicker and start shopping for a good cause. The annual TV auction lasts for two weeks and consists of goods and services generously donated by area merchants. Items include fine art, tuxedo rentals, couch pillows, bed & breakfast getaways, and new cars, to name but a few. The fun part comes in calling in to drive up prices, knowing that proceeds go to support KLRU during the next year.

6101 Highland Campus Drive, Building 3000

Best Comic Bookstore For The Rest Of Us

In the moments left to them between jobs, volunteer commitments, social engagements and the past six months' housework, some folks make a regular habit of following the adventures of traditional, mass-market comic book heroes. You remember, the ones you read as a child... Marvel's X-Men or Fantastic Four, DC's Superman or Wonder Woman. In the days before Marvel killed Professor X, destroyed the universe as we knew it and temporarily changed all of their titles, one dropped by the local comix shop when time permitted, browsed the month's offerings, and purchased three or four regular titles. Once the comix publishers hit upon the idea of creating "collectors' items" every three or four months, however (a trend DC began with its so-called "Death of Superman" series), things changed. Comic Cave puts the fun back for the casual collector, always managing to have an adequate supply of popular titles, even during techno-autistic-savant feeding frenzies. Hang ten with the Silver Surfer or hang from the rafters with Gotham's "Caped Crusader" -- at Comic Cave!

Best Excuse To Start A Hobby

Owner Suzanne Middlebrook, herself an expert weaver, claims that crafts like knitting and weaving are "great therapy," and we know it's certainly cheaper than the traditional variety! While Hill Country's all-natural fibers make us drool, the free classes in weaving and knitting keep us and our projects on track. Whether we're interested in the Saturday Knitting Club or a hard-to-find dye lot, Middlebrook works hard to make Hill Country Weavers a customer-friendly slice of textile heaven.

Hill Country Weavers
1701 S. Congress

Best Final Resting Place Of Doomed Consumer Products

There are gems to be found here, for sure -- cheap shampoo, conditioner, and Latoya Jackson videos, but there are also baffling toys, and houseware products (some As Seen On TV) that never quite got off the ground. MacFrugals serves as a museum for late 20th-century consumer products and a halfway house for the end products on marketing VPs who have likely been relieved of their duties. This is the place where their legacy lives on.

Best Institutional Rummage Sale

If you get nostalgic for your grade-school science lab or vintage medical supply shops, Radio Ranch has the requisite ambiance. The Ranchers frequent every weird auction in the state so you can find all manner of obscure furniture, beyond-vintage electronic equipment, and -- most importantly -- all the stuff you couldn't really play with in Chem Lab. False teeth (partial plates) for under five bucks.

Best L'il Bike Shop

South Austin Bicycles
3216 S. Congress

Best Neighborhood Grocery

Operated by the Prellop family since the late Fifties, shopping in this neighborhood mainstay always makes us feel right at home. Crestview is a family-owned, independent grocery store with a true devotion to service: the kind of place where they know your name, carry out your groceries and cash your paycheck. This award should rotate annually between the Crestview Minimax and the Fresh Plus stores, each truly beloved in their own areas.

Crestview Minimax - IGA
7108 Woodrow

Best Neighborhood Koindu

This year's move to this Airport Boulevard location has been good for Mitchie and great for the neighborhood. A possible barometer for a future shopping mecca, Mitchie's has led the way in small businesses in the area and is named for owner Joyce Hunt's young son, who, during rehabilitation from a horrible car accident, was encouraged to draw. Having never seen pictures of his own African-American people, Mitchie only drew white people. This led Joyce on a quest to collect works of art by black artists. The African Village-themed stalls in Mitchie's Fine Black Art recalls the spirit of the koindu (outdoor African markets). The Fine Black Art is represented by an amazing selection of prints with themes ranging from the western motif of the Buffalo Soldier and Black Cowboy to tribal designs from Mother Africa and a full-service frame shop, for the finishing touch. But that's not all... Mitchie's also has one of the most comprehensive African-American-authored and -themed literature, from encyclopedic collections to the latest Final Call.

Mitchie's Gallery
7801 N. Lamar Ste. B-148

Best New Bookstore

BookMaster Lynn Bender may look like Charlie Brown's Evil Twin, but you're not very likely to find any Peanuts books here. De Sade, Joel-Peter Witkin, and the officiously transgressive Richard Kern are far more likely fare in Bender's new venture, deep within the recesses of basement of the Bank One building on the Drag. Bender used to run, stock, supply, and generally breastfeed the financially anemic Europa until his break with the store nearly a year ago. Since then, he's opened this impressive subterranean collection of underground academia, everything from The Story of O to Adam Parfey's Feral House rants. Hey, Devilboy, want to find more about Anton LaVey's Church of Satan? Check out the impressive "Diary of a Satanist." Desert is filled with tomes like this and more, making it the best alternative bookstore since, well, the old Europa.

Best New Development In Austin Gardening

Until last spring, East-Central Austin was pretty much a wasteland as far as gardening supplies go. Without a car, we were stuck with hauling 40-pound bags of mulch across town on the bus, a few at a time. Eastside Cafe's new garden supply store, Pitchforks & Tablespoons, has made life so much easier.

Pitchforks & Tablespoons
2113 Manor Rd.

Best New Fringe Bookstore/Zinestore/Place-Type-Thingee

The bastard offspring of mutant cybergeniuses Paco Xander Nathan and Patrick Deese, the Fringeware store has (finally!) moved from its previous microscopic location to more suitable environs. Namely, right across the street from Blockbuster Video at the top of the Drag, and what a fitting place to combat the forces of mediocrity. Why rent the The Mighty Ducks Meet Stanky Bob when you can spend mere pennies on the dollar discovering the joys of Area 51, Poppy Z. Brite, and, um, Patrick `n' Paco? Why indeed? Books, zines, normtoys, triptoys, etcetera are all part of the Fringeware ouevre. And then there's the exquisite coffee next door, but save that for later -- linger, read, they're not gonna kick you out, we promise...

Best Pawn Shop, Place To Buy Plants

It's a pawn shop! It's a hardware store! It's a garden center! It's a dessert topping! No, not really. But it does have an adequate range of lapsed personal-loan collateral, especially tools, if not in the faux-mall-retail surroundings of an EZ-Pawn, as well as one of the best selections of nursery stock in Austin, at astoundingly affordable prices. (You can pawn your plants, too, if you so choose.) The plant stock is especially deep in tropical annuals, so if you're sick to death of native flora but want a landscape that'll live through August, beat a path to Snoopers' door.

Best Piece Of Glass

Somehow, we knew this one would pique your interest. In their East Austin studio, artists Matthew La Barbera and Teresa Ueltschey blow 2,125-degree liquid glass into vases, bowls, sculptures, paperweights, glasses, and more. The husband-and-wife team have cultivated a national following for their glassware, which is distinguished by astonishing clarity, flawless faceting, and transparent, jewel-toned colors. Their studio shop is one of our favorite places to buy gifts with an Austin signature. If you stop by in the morning, you might catch a glimpse of the artists at work.

Fire Island Hot Glass Studios
3401 E. Fourth

photograph by Minh Carrico   Minh Carrico

Best Place To Buy The Perfect Gift

Co-owners Marc Elson and Brad Hatfield have the most amazing selection of gifts, antiques, customized architectural hardware and unique imported items. They just have a knack for anticipating hot shopping trends. We've often found ourselves leaving their shop with the perfect item we never even knew we were looking for.

Architects & Heroes By Design
4700 W. Guadalupe, Suite 8

Best Place To Outfit Your Cheap Date

When you just have to have the gold peace-sign earrings (dangle, clip-on) and the red fishnet pantyhose and, oh yeah, a wig!, where do you go for one-stop shopping? When we need these things, we hie ourselves to an odd little boutique deep in South Austin: Quarter to Ten. We're not sure who their intended clientele are, but we do very much enjoy an inexpensive place to outfit our alter-ego (Whoever he or she may happen to be).

Best Place To Paint Your Lips

A welcome addition to town for actors, makeup artists, visiting film crews, drag queens and regular folk looking for high-quality makeup that you cannot find anywhere else in the quality and quantity that owner Shashana Kaplan keeps stocked in her spacious warehouse location, just east of I-35 on Fifth Street. Kaplan, who moved here from L.A., has hung onto her connections in LaLa Land and is constantly updating her inventory to keep up with state-of-the market standards. There are plenty of books available, too, and classes for you real serious makeup types, or just quick advice from Kaplan who has made up, among others, Liz Taylor (No kidding.)

Stage & Screen Beauty Supply
910 E. Fifth

Best Place To Shop For Cheap Household Fixtures

When running short of cash on that little household remodeling project, rush right over to the Re-Store for economical prices on sinks, toilets, cabinets, counters, windows and doors. Good prices to support a great cause: Habitat for Humanity builds low-income housing in our community.

Austin Habitat for Humanity
500 W. Ben White

Best Run For Your Money

With an incredibly knowledgeable staff, some of which most likely ran a sixteen-miler before they arrived at work for the day, Run-Tex is so much more than a sneaker store. The help they provide in choosing the right shoe, and the encouragement and advice they give out to all levels of runners makes Run-Tex feel more like an athlete's community center than a retail outlet. They also organize and sponsor local races, and can get runners set up with training groups to help them reach their goals. Best yet, their prices are right. If you trade in your old shoes -- Run-Tex donates them to the homeless -- they'll give you $10 off on a new pair.

422 W. Riverside, 512/472-3254
2201 Lake Austin Blvd., 512/477-9464

Best Selection Of Tacky Western Shirts

If you're passionate about your western wear, the plain old stuff won't do: You want the stuff with the pipe trim, the little arrows on the pockets, and preferably something on the shoulders, perhaps stitched roses or painted-on cactus or wagon wheels, etc. There are places with better selection, but they tend to be pricey; and there are cheaper places, but you have to dig all day to find one good shirt. Room Service combines the convenience of having all the cowboy/girl stuff in one place, and also going easy on your wallet (about $7-8 per shirt). Room Service also has a stellar selection of other "vintage" clothing and furniture as well.

Room Service Vintage
117 E. North Loop, 512/451-1057

photograph by Minh Carrico   Minh Carrico

Best Selection Of Upscale Cooking

Though we may not be able to afford the complete line of German Rosle kitchen hardware, we do aspire to own the ultra-utilitarian, elegantly styled, very pricey cooks' tools. Cornerstone is the only place in town where we can admire them.

Best Sign The Seventies Are Back

In the Seventies, Oat Willie's was already a counterculture institution, just like the Armadillo. Few things were more taken for granted than the grab-bag bins of the store's boxed matches, featuring artwork from the then-reigning kings of high hippie art such as Jim Franklin, Jaxon, and Micael Priest. Long gone for some years now, the matchboxes recently reappeared, along with a renewed interest in the retro-hippie style that the store never quite grew out of. Onward, then, through the foggy Nineties!

Oat Willie's
617 W. 29th, 512/482-0630
1931 E. Oltorf, 512/448-3313
9505 Burnet Rd., 512/836-6287

photograph by Minh Carrico   Minh Carrico

photograph by Minh Carrico   Minh Carrico

Best Urban Steel Yard

It's the steel yard that time forgot. In business since 1899 and at this location since 1910, Tips is considered one of the oldest industries in Austin. Although they recently upped their minimum purchase to $25 -- the parade of hobbyists dropping by for a couple of bucks of scrap iron was eating into their main operation, large-scale fabricating -- they are one of the few steel yards in the area still selling stock and scrap to individuals. And $25 worth of steel seems a small admission price for a glimpse of their enormous, ancient, vine-covered foundry.

Tips Iron & Steel Co.
300 Baylor

Best Warehouse To Explore

A true warehouse of recycled, pre-owned, gently used, or new office equipment, supplies, and furniture just east of I-35. Not only are there office chairs, desks, file cabinets, printer stands, dry-erase boards, and postage meters, but also copiers, fax machines, phones, workstations, computers & software, ladders, and store fixtures. A must-see for students, home officers, and bargain hunters. Every visit finds "new" stuff from auctions or downsized state agencies or corporations for at least half the prices of Office Depot/Max. Mike Hudkins not only sells but buys.

Texas Office Products & Supplies
1100 E. Fifth, 512/472-1340
2307 Kramer, 512/833-7777

Critics: Services
1996 Intro

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